A breeze of fresh air in Nungambakkam  
- Parthiban Palani, Chennai  
e-mail: parthibanpalani@yahoo.com 
April 13, 2007 

The cool evening of 24 March at the MOP Vaishnav College of Women in Chennai witnessed the arrival of N Harinie Jeevitha, a student of guru Sheela Unnikrishnan of Sri Devi Nrithyalaya. Harinie Jeevitha's talent had already been spotted by such discerning professionals as Anita Ratnam, who had invited the 11-year-old girl to participate in a dance production of the Arangham Dance Theatre staged in New Delhi.  

The orchestra started the prayer song, which was smoothly followed by Ganesha Kautuvam (in ragam nattai and adi talam) where the sprightly virtuoso gracefully performed very complex hip movements characteristic of Sri Devi Nrithyalaya. The limber dancer swiftly and effortlessly leaned sideways with incredible amplitude. 

The alarippu in Kandachapu talam and ragam nattai was performed with a dignified grace and understanding of its symbolisms. Harinie proved that a true artiste can turn even an apparently plain item into an intricate pattern of sophisticated movements. 

The jatishwaram in ragam Kalyani and rupaka talam demonstrated how accurate the spry danseuse is in executing the fast-paced adavus, proving her acute sense of rhythm.

The following padam, Om Namo Narayanam, displayed how Harinie's delicate, long and amazingly flexible fingers seemed to respond spontaneously to the song's words with elegant hastas and accurate mudras, literally painting a host of intricate images in the air. The young dancer's eye movements were under perfect control, and revealed her deep involvement in depicting these various images. Indeed, in this item, the dancer managed to bring out the essence of bhakti.  

Many passages sparkled with those rare graceful karanas that are very rarely performed even by the contemporary professional dancers nowadays. Luckily, these elements seamlessly flowed one into another, blended organically with the rest of the composition and were choreographed to enhance the song.  

The Varnam 'Ganam Isaithu' gave Harinie ample scope for expressing her prowess in abhinaya. One of the most expressive sanchari was of Draupadi's vasthrabharanam, especially in the passage "Manam kakkave chendraya," and while depicting sending a message to the heroine's beloved in "Neelam Nirai Vanna Meniyane." The spectators were pleasantly surprised at how mature this 12-year-old dancer was in conveying the subtle nuances of abhinaya.  

Apart from that, the 35-minute long varnam revealed not only how good the dancer's stamina is, but also how advanced is her grasp of the various bhavas, conveying in her own way that reflected her individual style in abhinaya - a striking contrast to most other young dancers who seem to aspire to become clones of their gurus in every minute detail.  

The passage with the smiling Krishna disguised as a brahmin when he comes to ask punyams of the dying Karna on the battlefield deserves special mention, as Harinie managed to depict the feelings of both the characters, and the quick transmutation from one character into the other in a subtle manner. Combining movements at different levels helped to bring out the meaning of the lyrics. 

Kriti Ananda Natana Prakasam was again full with complex karanas that the dancer performed with ease and confidence. The fast-changing poses were a real test not only of the dancer's flexibility and strength but also of the equilibrium. The static poses too were filled with life and subtle transfigurations seen in her face, not a common sight in Bharatanatyam recitals nowadays.  

In Bharatiyar's Shakti Koothu in Shiva Shakthi ragam, the dancer displayed the full range of Shakthi's moods and aspects with remarkable involvement and sincerity, executing difficult movements with natural grace. Vocal by Rajeshwari Kumar was filled with profound bhavas and provided excellent support for the dancer's rendering. The orchestra masterfully used a few additional instruments such as morsing, ganjeera-like drum and a large bell. 

In the thillana, Harinie showed brilliance in executing the nritta incorporating technical accuracy and purity. Thanks to her guru's creativity, the thillana was full of unique theermanams, brisk and well-timed, that fit very beautifully at the end of each jati. Her face - instead of assuming a standard fixed smile - spontaneously reflected each movement of her torso, legs and arms. 

As usual, the "Talent Revealing Opportunity Programme" of the VDS Arts Academy was to reveal the dancer's talent mostly to her friends, relatives, schoolmates and their relatives, as well as to a mere handful of other lucky rasikas. Chief guest guru V P Dhananjayan was visibly impressed by Harinie's performance and gave a heart-felt, encouraging speech, commending the young dancer's skills. His speech was followed by the concise comments of Sridhar of VDS Arts Academy. This time they contained - to everyone's surprise - no negative criticisms.